Amateur historian tracks down fighter bought with cash given by townsfolk

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: The restored Spitfire ‘Marion’, The restored Spitfire ‘Marion’,

An amateur historian has tracked down a Second World War fighter bought with cash donated by Keighley people.

Keighley man Ian Walkden was delighted to discover that the Spitfire was still flying more than 70 years after it was built.

The plane, named Marion after the girlfriend of its original Canadian pilot, has been restored in recent decades and is currently based in the USA. Mr Walkden said that among surviving Spitfires, Marion was unique because it was a gift funded through the generosity of Keighley people.

He said: “She’s one of 20,200 Spitfires built and one of only 50 still flying, but how many ‘gifts of war’ are still flying? I’m proud that I found her. This is so exciting for me – it was a Eureka moment to find out she was still flying.” The Spitfire was featured in 2008 in a newspaper article by local historian Ian Dewhirst. He told how Keighley people raised £11,600 in 1942 to buy a Spitfire and Hurricane to support the war effort.

The Spitfire, a Mark Vb numbered BL628, originally bore the Keighley coat of arms with the town’s motto By Worth. Mr Walkden, a member of Keighley’s Men of Worth military history group, decided to look into the fate of “Keighley’s Spitfire” after a friend mentioned it.

He phoned the RAF Museum at Hendon and was directed to sources of information about what had happened to the aircraft.

Mr Walkden discovered that the Spitfire had been used for fighter sweeps over Europe and convoy patrols, and finished its war career in 1945 training pilots in Cornwall.

In 1977 Marion’s centre section and cockpit were found on a farm near its Cornish base, and over the next three decades the plane underwent restoration in Australia and the UK.

Following its return to the sky in 2007, the plane is now owned by Texas-based Lewis Air Legends and is used for air shows and films.

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